This is part two of my series on passages taken out of context. The passage I am going to look at in this post is more misunderstood than taken out of context. The reason I chose to discuss it here is because it has come up in recent posts and comments on this blog. Thankfully, it has not been misinterpreted here! 🙂
To give a little background to the verse, understand that it is taking place in a discussion between Jesus and his disciples. Jesus has asked his followers who people were saying Jesus was. They respond that people were guessing that Jesus was John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.
After asking his disciples who other people thought he was, he asks the disciples who the disciples thought he was. Peter speaks up and responds in Matthew 16:16, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus responds to Peter’s words in v. 17, “Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”
Then we come to verse 18, which is the verse I want to discuss. Jesus goes on to say, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Volumes have been written on the word play between Peter’s name (which is Greek for “rock” or “small stone”) and the word “rock” in this verse. Much has been discussed about who or what the rock is. Is the rock Peter? Is it the faith of Peter? Is it something else?
Well, my interest lies elsewhere in this post. You can read about those other questions in Bible commentaries or on other blogs. I want to focus on what Jesus meant when he said the gates of hell would not prevail against the church. I have often heard this verse explained to mean that the church would not be overtaken by the attacks of hell. The church will stand strong against the attacks of its enemies.
However, who does this verse say is on the offensive? Does the verse not say that the gates belong to hell? Since when do gates do any attacking? The picture is of a city or fortress whose gates are not able to stand against its foes. The gates belong to the fortress and they are there to protect against the attack. It seems that this verse says that the fortress of hell is on the defensive, not the church. The church is attacking and the gates are not strong enough to withstand the offensive!
How does this change the mindset of our churches as we minister in this fallen world? Are we to take a fortress mentality and play defense until Christ returns? Or, are we to be the ones on the offensive as we reclaim this fallen world for Christ with the assurance that the powers of hell cannot withstand our strength?
What do you think? Have you ever heard this passage used incorrectly?